author’s style (complete physical and emotional arc)
--about ½ page for each of the excerpts from the following works of fiction:
--2nd person: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City
--1st person: Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”
--3rd person omniscient (distant): Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good
--3rd person focused/limited (close): John Updike’s “A Sense of Shelter”
#2. The Couple in the Airport. Writing Internal Monologue… —See the “couple in the airport” photograph.
—Write a scene or short-short story with an emotional arc—i.e. some value change (the arc can be subtle; it doesn’t have to be a dramatic change from, say, happy to sad or sad to happy; it could be from concerned to peaceful or from content to anxious or from happy to deeply loving).
—Create a physical arc, by first establishing the setting (in the airport) of the narrator…and then, in the end, giving him or her some subtle action (so that the arc goes from non-action to action; the action, ideally, should somehow complement the emotional arc).
—Capture, and stick to, the POV of the man or the woman in the photograph (first-person POV, in the present tense, then using the past tense for backstory (and possibly flashback).
—Use triggers (objects or images) from the photograph to prompt, or “trigger” backstory /
flashback —The goal here, as writer, should be to craft the scene so that the following happens: the narrator begins stationary, contemplative; the setting stimulates thoughts and memories that stir emotion; finally the mood shifts and compels some significant action.
—If you wish, you may search for and use a different picture that would work well for this assignment—one that features a “character” in an interesting setting / situation and that provides a “trigger” to prompt backstory / flashback
#3. Short-Short Story or “Flash Fiction” —Write a “short-short story” or “flash fiction” in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd- person point of view. —Consider the “classic” 3-Act Structure story elements: protagonist/character(s), setting, conflict…crisis/climax, resolution.
—The story must be no longer than two pages double-spaced. For the first draft, write this as a “timed writing,” giving yourself 30-45 minutes (max!), as if in a typical class period. This will help you to be spontaneous and to have fun. You can always revise later.
—Choose one of the sets of ten words below. Use and underline/bold the words/phrases in your story:
India, dinner party, young girl, colonel, veranda, (the) American, (the) hostess, cobra, milk, scream(s)
Use 10 of the 12 the following words/phrases: island, deer, Huntsville, one hundred years, high school sweethearts, Pacific, bone, steering wheel,
ambulance, apostrophe, dark stone, ball
#4. 3rd-Person Focused/Limited/Close Point of View SCENE --Name your character in the opening line, and bluntly state his/her desire— see below (Have a little fun with the name—what would be the perfect name for
this character? Or the perfectly ironic name?)
--Give your character an unlikely desire, playing against cliché. For example,
it seems likely, or even cliché, that a teenage girl might want a prom dress; but
what if a fifty-year-old man wanted a prom dress? Immediately, one wonders why. This premise could lead to an interesting scenario—possibly comic, possibly complex and moving. A construction worker might likely want or need a hammer; but what if he wanted a manicure? (See the example below.)
--Set, or get, your character in/to the mall, or some such physical space/place, where he/she wants (to buy?) something…
--What’s at stake for your character? (Why does he/she want this thing? What
does he/she have to lose if he/she doesn’t get this thing?)
--Begin with a paragraph with its own physical and emotional arc
Henry Farnsworth wanted a manicure and didn’t care if he blew his whole lunch break trying to get one. He gazed up at the elaborate arch over Twelfth Street, mesmerized by the ornate gold dragons, and wondered where the heck he was. He’d never been to Chinatown before, much less gone there seeking any kind of beauty treatment, but he had a feeling this was where he’d get lucky. He felt like a fool, not to mention a monster, stomping down the sidewalk in his work boots, all these little ladies buzzing by, not a lick of English in the air. First thing this morning Stacy from the office had stopped by the site; Henry had planned on asking her out for coffee, until she spat some insult about one of the other carpenter’s bleedy-looking fingernails and Henry stuffed his hands into his pockets, nearly dropping his hammer. He was determined to clean himself up; that was the only way he had a shot at Stacy, whose nails flashed and heels clicked as she skipped back to her Explorer and drove off. Now here was Henry, lost; he couldn’t make heads or tails of the Chinese letters on the sign, but the woman in the doorway smiled and waved him forward. He climbed the stoop and asked the lady where he could get a manicure. When he flashed his grubby fingers, she flinched. “Three fo’ lonch?” she said, and handed him a thick menu.
“Uh, nails?” He, again, showed her his fingers.
She looked him up and down. Henry looked down at his own disheveled appearance, his paint-splattered jeans, his dusty shirt. He could read her mind: Nails, she was thinking—as in hammer and nails.
“Yes!” She nodded vigorously and stepped past him, onto the stoop. She took his arm, beaming. “My sissah!”
Henry looked across the street, following the woman’s proud gaze, and found a mirror image of this woman beaming back at them, “WONDER NAILS” aglow on the brick face overhead.
“My sissah! Wanda Nails. She the best. Go.”
The woman nudged him. Henry handed her the menu still in his hand. When the woman’s sister waved him over, it was as if Stacy herself were calling to him. Tomorrow he would dazzle her.
#5. Creating Empathy, Beyond the Headline: Writing a Short Story Opening, Inspired by the News Explanation/Goal: This exercise challenges you to think beyond “plot” and to create an “empathetic character,” right from the start—beginning your story in medias res.
First, find a news story about a person who committed an act that got him or her into trouble; you should find this person’s behavior to be offensive, even appalling. Now, in your mind, “turn back the clock” to a time soon before the act that gave rise to the news story, and create an empathetic portrayal of this character. That is, create a character in whom the reader recognizes a certain shared humanity, a character the reader can understand—not necessarily a likeable character with whom the reader merely sympathizes.
If the headline is, for example, “Woman Robs Bank, Kills Security Guard,” imagine this woman an hour before the crime, in a specific setting, already in the midst of personal conflict—that is, in medias res, which in Latin means “in the middle of things.” Perhaps she sits in her car that won’t start, outside the apartment from which she has been evicted; sobbing, she calls her mother, who tells her she is a failure; in her purse is the gun she threatened to use last night, before her husband drove off, promising never to return. In a flash, she dreams of California, and a new life; her car starts—a stroke of luck—and, as she drives into town to withdraw her life savings from the bank, her hope turns to despair as it occurs to her that her heartless husband has no doubt already emptied their shared account…
Distance yourself from the details of the original news story, first by inventing a fictional name for your character; also, write in the past tense, and from the third-person point of view. Write a single scene that builds up to, but does not include, the crucial act of the original news story; instead, emphasize the inner life of this character you are essentially inventing, and write toward a compelling “hook” that would launch the story into action.
Perhaps you’ll decide to continue to write the story, returning to, or deviating further, from the premise that inspired your well imagined opening.
--on 4 cards write strange or unusual behavior [not too mundane (brushing teeth, etc.) or too dramatic (strangling the dog) but in between, odd and interesting (setting free the parakeet; picking loose the tennis racquet strings; sewing shut the sweater sleeves)].
--Partner up or form groups of 3 or 4; shuffle the vocation cards; shuffle the behavior cards; form pairs, vocation with behavior; pick your favorite pair
--Write last scene of story (1-2 pages), answering the question [for example], “Why did the dentist pick loose the tennis racquet strings?”
--3rd-person POV, past tense
--You must supply the motive, the setting, and resolved conflict (imagine prior scene that provided the severity of the conflict; also, imagine scene that demonstrated the initial difficulty, perhaps weaving in backstory…). First brainstorm, writing about what might have happened earlier, to set up the ending…
THE SETUP: Brainstorm, what happened earlier… Maybe he used to be a tennis star in college and, now, a young dentist, he botched a job on a rich patient’s root canal and his dexterity has been questioned, even his commitment to this profession, even his commitment to his home life—still playing in tennis tournaments, on weekends and even weeknights, his boss reprimanding him, his wife missing him—and so in the final scene he sits before the final set of the championship match and begins picking the strings of his racquet, destroying it, his wife watching from the stands, this act a kind of penance, a commitment to his adult life, a kind of retiring of his tennis career.
THE PAYOFF ENDING: Dr. Stanley Berkowitz, dentist, ex-PIAA state tennis champion, toed the line, eyed his opponent beyond the quivering net, and glanced suddenly at his wife, who offered an encouraging smile. 40-LOVE, he thought. This is it. He was a man now, or it was time for him to be—that’s what she’d said to him last night, and it stung him to the bone. But she was right: tennis was a boy’s game, and it was time for him to focus. The truth, though he hadn’t mentioned this to a soul—and perhaps he never would—was that he really had been trembling last Wednesday afternoon, just as his boss, Dr. Miller, had accused him; Stanley had been tired from the match the night before and his muscles had been literally knotting up—he couldn’t control the tools of his trade, and he’d botched it. He’d gouged the patient’s nerve, damaged it permanently.
Stanley’s serve. Advantage Stanley. He tossed the ball over his head and let it fall back into his hand. The crowd let out a collective gasp, of anticipation, and then a disappointed—concerned?—sigh, as he walked to the bench. The line judge whispered, “Everything all right?” Stanley gazed up. He must have appeared delirious, insane. The first knot was stubborn, unforgiving, but the next one came easily, and each one after that came undone without effort. The strings popped off the racquet with grace, and all at once he held the tangled mess in a fist, like a ball of floss, like some kind of sad trophy, and held it up to show his wife, who was already approaching, her eyes awash with confused but happy tears, Stanley could see.
#7. Anne Tyler’s “Holding Things Together”
--Describe the arc of each of the 8 scenes
#8. Outline of your own realistic, modern-day story.
--consider sample outline of “Holding Things Together”
--use an ellipsis for each scene to indicate the “space” between the beginning and
end of scene
--Your complete story will be 6-10 pages (longer is okay), typed, double-spaced,
Braintstorming & Story-Generating Exercises #9. Intensify Conflict: Write five “What if…?” questions, considering how you might create
new, or alternate, plot twists in the story you’ve already outlined…
--ex. What if, instead of the cars colliding and the woman dying at the climax, the cars
swerve and she lives, which would force the protagonist to deal with her being alive rather than dead…?
—ex. 1: Boy likes girl…he asks her out: yay.
Or, what if: 2: Boy and girl are together…she dumps him: now what?
Or, what if: 3: Girl dumps boy…he gets her back; and then he dumps her, for a new girl, but then ends up alone. Interesting! But now what?
OK, more (“…two stories”?): Prom night, dateless, he goes to work at Wawa, where has
boss has been a nag (set up!)… Now he discovers the man’s wife, or (just?) dog, has
died, and he consoles him. Ahh, the overall arc: conscious desire: he hates his job and
just wants his girl back… unconscious desire: he understands loss and loneliness; he